HC Deb 03 December 1990 vol 182 cc21-6 3.32 pm
Mr. Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (by private notice)

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs if he will make a statement on the Government's policy towards President Bush's invitation to Iraq for talks on the Gulf crisis.

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Mr. Douglas Hogg)

I begin with an apology. Unhappily, I have lost my voice, so I am somewhat less audible than I would wish to be.

We welcome the United States initiative, which is designed to increase the peaceful pressures on Iraq and to reinforce the need for compliance with United Nations Security Council resolutions. As President Bush and Secretary Baker have made clear, the purpose is not to negotiate with Iraq. It is rather to leave the Iraqi leadership in no doubt as to the determination of the international community to see Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait in accordance with the requirements laid down by the United Nations.

Mr. Kaufman

The Opposition also welcome President Bush's initiative, as an imaginative attempt to solve the crisis peacefully.

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman tell the House whether the British Government were consulted in advance by President Bush, and if so when, and can he say whether the United Kingdom Government will take part in the talks? Will he confirm that the 12 United Nations Security Council resolutions on the Gulf crisis stand and cannot deviate? Will he also confirm that these resolutions require Iraq's unconditional withdrawal from the whole of Kuwait, and the unconditional release of all hostages? Will he further confirm that resolution 660, which was passed on 2 August and has been reaffirmed many times since, calls upon Iraq and Kuwait to begin immediate intensive negotiations for the resolution of their differences, and that such negotiations can begin once the UN Security Council resolutions on withdrawal and the release of hostages have been implemented?

Will the Minister further confirm that, once the Security Council resolutions requiring withdrawal and release of hostages have been carried out, the way will be clear for the international conference on the middle east for which the Labour and Conservative parties in this country have been calling for many years? Will he agree that that conference can deal with self-determination for the Palestinians, resettlement of Palestinian refugees, Israeli security, a peace settlement in the middle east and the withdrawal of foreign forces, removal of all non-conventional armaments from the middle east and control of arms sales to the region? Will he point out that all these great prizes are open for discussion as soon as the Security Council resolutions are implemented?

Will the hon. and learned Gentleman send President Bush the good wishes of the House for the success of his initiative, and a peaceful resolution of the crisis on the basis of the Security Council resolutions?

Mr. Hogg

I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for his support. On his first question, we were indeed given notice of what occurred. On his second question, the 12 resolutions are still in place. On his third question, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State has no plans to go to Iraq.

On the other resolutions, the position is quite plain. The United Nations resolutions require Iraq to leave Kuwait unconditionally, to release the hostages, and to restore the legitimate Government of Kuwait. Once that has happened, and not until then, there is some unfinished business which can be addressed, one aspect of which is the Palestinian question. I make it plain to the House that we see no linkage between the two.

Sir Peter Tapsell (East Lindsey)

Will my hon. and learned Friend bear in mind the fact that many of us share the misgivings about the latest development that Mr. Henry Kissinger expressed yesterday, and that we would be very concerned indeed, even if Iraq were to withdraw from Kuwait, if Saddam Hussein were left in possession of chemical and biological weapons, and possibly the capacity to produce nuclear weapons and to deliver them, as I have been told, to areas as far afield as Sicily?

Mr. Hogg

I entirely understand my hon. Friend's misgivings. On his central question, by the invitation that he has extended, President Bush seeks to make it wholly plain to Saddam Hussein that the resolutions mean precisely what they say—that he must comply unconditionally with the resolutions by 15 January or face the possibility of being driven out of Kuwait by force. This is not a process of negotiation. It is a desire to make it plain to Saddam Hussein, so that he understands the position without any doubt or equivocation.

Mr. Tony Senn (Chesterfield)

Is the Minister aware that the talks—which have been requested urgently from the outset by people all over the world—will receive a warm welcome? Is he aware that the pressure for them to take place was primarily a result of the worldwide campaign for a peaceful solution on the basis of implementation of all the United Nations resolutions, including that applying to the west bank and Gaza? This has been prompted by the catastrophe of war which is becoming apparent all over the world, not least in the United States.

Does the Minister agree that the Government have no moral right to commit our troops to battle, or to put at risk the lives of 1,400 British citizens in Iraq and Kuwait, without the explicit consent of the House of Commons? That has been urged strongly in the United States—under its own constitutional provisions—but ought, on moral grounds, to apply in the United Kingdom as well.

Mr. Hogg

It is, of course, very important that there should be no misunderstanding of the nature or purpose of the talks. The purpose of the invitation issued by President Bush is to ensure that Saddam Hussein understands clearly that he must comply, fully and unconditionally, with the United Nations Security Council resolutions; and that, if he does not do so, he faces the risk of being driven out of Kuwait by force.

As for the second part of the right hon. Gentleman's question, the Labour and Conservative Front Benches share a common stance. I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman is unable to support his own Front Bench on this matter.

Mr. Robert Hayward (Kingswood)

I welcome what my hon. and learned Friend has said this afternoon, especially in relation to the gesture of good will made by President Bush. Will my hon. and learned Friend emphasise that the greatest gesture that President Hussein could make would be immediately to release all hostages of all nationalities? Will he also convey the message that it is not appropriate—in saying this I make no criticism of the right hon. Member for Chesterfield (Mr. Benn)—for President Hussein to release hostages to one emissary when he has announced that he will release the same group of people to a previous British emissary—my right hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath)? President Hussein is currently claiming credit twice over.

Mr. Hogg

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend, and indeed to his family support group, for the work that they have collectively done; it has been of great value to families and hostages.

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend's substantive point. The detention of hostages by Saddam Hussein is a wicked and immoral act. It is also contrary to international law. He should release them forthwith.

Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse (Pontefract and Castleford)

My right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Mr. Kaufman) asked whether there had been prior consultation. If so, when was it—or were the Government notified only a few minutes before the talks?

Mr. Hogg

We were informed of the impending announcement before the announcement.

Mr. Ivan Lawrence (Burton)

May I thank my hon. and learned Friend—or, rather, Her Majesty's Government—for standing firm against any linkage with the Israeli-Palestinian dispute??Does he agree that, if Saddam Hussein were to withdraw because any linkage had been conceded, not only would he be being rewarded for his infamy, blackmail and slaughter of Kuwait, but the chances of a nuclear conflict that would result in the deaths of many thousands of people would be much enhanced?

Mr. Hogg

I entirely agree with my hon. and learned Friend. There is no linkage. It would be absurd to say that the solution to a problem that had recently developed must be postponed until the resolution of a long-standing and intractable problem. Let me add, however, that, once the UN Security Council resolutions have been complied with in full by Iraq, there will be unfinished business—and that unfinished business includes a serious attempt to resolve the Palestinian problem.

Mr. Tam Dalyell (Linlithgow)

Do the Government believe the right hon. Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (Mr. Heath), who told us that the Kuwaiti oilfields are deep mined by the Iraqis? What technical information is available to the Government about the effect of the detonation of oilfields by deep mines? Do the Government dispute that the sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide consequences could travel 750 km or more from the area in which the oilfields were blown up? There is talk about the military options. What assessment has been made of the ecological, quite apart from the human, consequences?

Mr. Hogg

If the hon. Gentleman is saying that war is a bloody and beastly business which one should avoid if at all possible, I entirely agree with him. The British Government's position, and that of the Labour Front-Bench spokesmen, is plain: we wish to avoid war. We hope very much that Iraq will comply with the Security Council resolutions by 15 January. If it does, there will be no war. Otherwise, Iraq faces the possibility of being driven out of Kuwait by force.

Mr. Jacques Arnold (Gravesham)

Has my hon. and learned Friend reflected on the fact that, had Israel not acted in 1981, our armed forces would be facing a nuclear-armed opponent? Whether or not Saddam Hussein withdraws from Kuwait, what should we be doing to deal with Iraq's nuclear, chemical and biological warfare capabilities?

Mr. Hogg

The first thing to do is to secure unconditional compliance with the Security Council resolutions.

Mr. D. N. Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Many of us will support military conflict, if it is necessary, but as a position of last resort. Is there not a position of first resort? Ought not the Government discreetly try to exert pressure on Mr. Bush to widen Mr. Baker's remit so as to hold discussions on matters that might lead to an end of the crisis, or are we simply going to lull ourselves into war without considering the consequences?

Mr. Hogg

Neither the American Government nor Her Majesty's Government, or any other Government involved in the matter, regard war as being a position of first resort. As I have just said, it is a beastly and bloody business which one should avoid if at all possible. It is also, however, true that Iraq has invaded its neighbours, killed its citizens and stolen its property. Iraq must now comply with the Security Council resolutions. It has a further six weeks in which to do that. It has plenty of time. If Iraq does not do so, at the expiration of that time it faces the risk of war.

Mr. Anthony Beaumont-Dark (Birmingham, Selly Oak)

Does my hon. and learned Friend accept that many of us have been saddened by the appeasers' road to Baghdad that has been taken by some right hon. Members and by other spent volcanos of so-called leaders in Europe? Is it not time for us to say that what President Bush is really saying is that he is willing to give peace one more chance to stop bloodshed, but that what he is not willing to do is to give way on the fact that Kuwait has to be free? If Kuwait is not free, Saudi Arabia, the whole middle east and possibly the whole world could be involved in war. Is that not where we stand—for freedom and justice, not for appeasement?

Mr. Hogg

My hon. Friend puts his point robustly, as is his wont. The purpose of the invitation is to ensure that Saddam Hussein learns for himself that the United States and her allies will carry the military burden of this business, if it needs to be carried. We are determined to do what has to be done to ensure full compliance with the Security Council resolutions. At the same time, we are anxious to avoid war if at all possible. Therefore, the invitation is designed to make sure that there is no misunderstanding on the part of Saddam Hussein.

Mr. John Evans (St. Helens, North)

If the Bush initiative is not successful and hostilities break out in the Gulf, does the Minister accept that many thousands of British citizens working in other Arab countries could face some difficulties from local groups hostile to the west and sympathetic to Iraq? Does he accept that one group of people who could be placed in some jeopardy are British lecturers and teachers in Arab universities? Will he consider instructing British ambassadors to seek assurances from other Arab countries that their welfare, property and lives will be safeguarded in those circumstances?

Mr. Hogg

The hon. Gentleman makes an important and relevant point. We are urgently considering how best to ensure the safety of British citizens in the middle east.

Several Hon. Members


Mr. Speaker

Order. I remind the House that this is a private notice question and that we are to have a statement after it. I shall call two more Members from each side, but then we must move on.

Mr. John Wilkinson (Ruislip-Northwood)

My hon. and learned Friend alluded to the possibility of unfinished business being on the agenda of a middle east conference in the event of an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait. Will he comment on the Government's view of the statement made today by the Israeli Government that President Saddam Hussein should withdraw from office?

Mr. Hogg

It would be a very good thing if he withdrew from office. It would be an even better thing if he withdrew from Kuwait.

Ms. Clare Short (Birmingham, Ladywood)

The link between the situation in Kuwait and that of the Palestinians is not Saddam Hussein but international law, which is being breached in both instances. We must take a firm stand on the settlement of the Palestinian question, because that is the way to make the middle east safe. Our Government have behaved like a poodle for the United States. To achieve a proper settlement, we need a separate European initiative in which European Governments are not implicated in backing the intransigence of Israel in the middle east. That includes not only an Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait but a long-term peaceful settlement in the middle east rather than a horrific war.

Mr. Hogg

There is neither logic nor morality in arguing that there is some link between resolution of the Palestinian question and securing the withdrawal of Iraqi forces from Kuwait. Once Iraq has unconditionally complied with the United Nations Security Council resolutions, we will return to the unfinished business that has been discussed in the Chamber today.

Mr. Conal Gregory (York)

Will my hon. and learned Friend confirm that we are doing our utmost to stop sanction breaking, which many newspapers are reporting is happening in some areas? Also, will he give succour to the families of hostages that a financial lifeline will be supplied by the Government in the event of their being unable to make mortgage and other payments, which, as we approach Christmas, could cripple families?

Mr. Hogg

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend about the plight of the hostages. I have considerable admiration for the courage and fortitude shown by the families of the hostages. I am glad to say that we have been able to do much to assist them. We have close contacts with them, not least through the family support group, with which my hon. Friend is closely associated.

Mr. Charles Kennedy (Ross, Cromarty and Skye)

May I underscore the plea that has just been made on behalf of the hostages? May we have an assurance that, in this welcome initiative, the Government will stress to the President of the United States the need to put them at the top of the agenda? As the Minister rightly made it clear that the United Nations resolutions will be adhered to and will be stressed by the President, the word "negotiation" will not be appropriate in the context of the meeting, but what status does the Minister foresee for the meeting? Does he regard it as a dialogue or an opportunity for the position of the United Nations to be rehearsed directly to President Hussein?

Mr. Hogg

The hon. Gentleman is entirely right to emphasise the great importance that the Government attach to the early release of the hostages, and we have made that plain on every possible occasion. The hon. Gentleman referred to the invitation from the United States Government. I agree with him that to use the word "negotiations" is misleading. The purpose of the invitation is to make plain to Iraq the fact that the Security Council is intent on securing full compliance with the resolution and that those countries that have deployed forces in the middle east stand behind that resolution. If Iraq does not comply unconditionally with the terms of the resolution, that country will be exposed to the risk of war, and Saddam Hussein needs to understand that.

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